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Poverty, food insecurity, and poor nutrition are all inextricably linked factors when it comes to the health and development of a child. The inability to afford and access good, safe, nutritious food leads to malnourishment, which in turn results in stunting (low height for age) and wasting (low weight for height).

Based on health checks conducted on 390 children in Alexandra Township by Rays of Hope, a non-profit organisation that works to support the development and well-being of people living in the township community, 186 children were referred for being underweight, stunted, or experiencing other medically concerning health problems.

“One child needed an ambulance to be called as one of the doctors was worried about the state of their health, and it turned out the child had been very sick and had to be admitted for a week,” says Bertha Muchadeyi, Psychosocial Support Manager at Rays of Hope.

“Access to good nutrition remains one of the biggest obstacles facing families and especially children in Alex. Eating to survive often amounts to taking what you can get, and for many in Alex this means their daily meals may fill their stomachs for a day, but likely lack the balance of good protein, fruit and vegetables, and healthy fats needed for growing minds and bodies to succeed,” adds Muchadeyi.

In South Africa, the number of stunted children under five stands at over 1.5 million according to UNICEF, meaning that almost three out of every 10 children in South Africa are already stunted. As a result of irreversible physical and cognitive damage caused by persistent nutritional deprivations, these children may not reach the full growth and development potential of a healthy adult.

Poor nutrition also leads to diet-related non-communicable diseases, including cardiovascular disease and hypertension, some cancers, and diabetes – impacting on already strained economic circumstances in households that cannot afford nutritious food.

As such, Rays of Hope’s perspective is that nutritional interventions are crucial from a young age to ensure children have a better chance of developing to meet their full their potential and avoid life-threatening diseases in the future.

And while volunteer efforts to provide a meal to the hungry and homeless typically takes the form of a sandwich, Muchadeyi notes that this may not always be the most nutritious option.

“It’s not enough to simply be fed, but to ensure that kids are receiving the right nutrition for their age,” she adds. “Yes, a full tummy keeps hunger at bay, but we must start asking ourselves how we can better serve communities in need. The right approach can make a lasting impact on people’s lives.”

Some of the ways the organisation is achieving this, in addition to organising regular health checks and offering home-based care services to the community, is through its community-based support programmes. Rays of Hope social workers and teams routinely conduct home visits and offer practical assistance to Alex residents in need as part of its family care initiative, which, among many support functions, assists families with grant applications and provides food hampers in desperate cases.

Akanani ECD Centre in Alex, run by Rays of Hope, provides 60 young children with the opportunity to play, learn and grow in a safe environment, which his rarely the case for children in Alex. In addition to meeting early childhood development milestones, the children also receive two healthy meals and snacks each day at the centre.

“The ECD centre is an essential service for the community, because setting an individual up for a bright future ahead starts with meeting their physical, emotional and mental needs in the formative years,” adds Muchadeyi. “Not only do ECD interventions provide a solid foundation for learning at school, but it also sets the tone for overall success in life. The children receive two nutritious meals each day, which in many cases are the most nutritionally beneficial food children receive for that day.”

Poverty exacerbates food insecurity and, by extension, poor nutrition in under-resourced communities like Alex, leaves many children facing a bleak future ahead. Changing this for the better starts with interventions at grassroots level, and it’s imperative that South Africa – from non-profits to corporates – play a more central role in bringing about this change.

Organisations and businesses involved in community-based interventions can and must take practical steps to combat food insecurity. Individuals and corporations should consider partnering with NPOs like Rays of Hope towards the goal of providing real meals to those in need, creating a lasting impact on communities like Alex.

“Your donation can help us put food on the table for those who need it most. Together, we can make a tangible difference,” concludes Muchadeyi.


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